TIME Virtual Reality

How Does Virtual Reality Work?

It all has to do with a computer doing its best to trick your brain

Everyone’s talking about Virtual Reality, but what exactly is it, and how does it work?

In short, it all has to do with a computer doing its best to trick your brain. A virtual reality headset shows you an image and as soon as you move your head it modifies that image to make it seem like you’re really there. 3D audio can also enhance the experience and make you forget your physical surroundings.

What can this technology be used for? Movies and gaming is an obvious option, but virtual reality has a slew of other possible uses. It can be used for training, medical procedures, and even psychological therapy to treat disorders like PTSD.

With all the possibilities in store for VR, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before it becomes commonplace.

Read more here.

TIME Virtual Reality

11 Things We Learned By Trying Every Virtual Reality Headset Out There

It's going to be a wild ride—and it starts this Christmas

In the August 17 cover story of TIME, we take a deep look at the mainstreaming of virtual reality, the long-promised technology that is now becoming widely available to consumers. Headsets from Facebook’s Oculus, Valve, Sony, Microsoft, Google and many others will start going on sale this year, and competition will increase dramatically through 2016. Throughout this year, we set out to try every major in-development headset out there. These devices promise to change not only entertainment, but education, health, and work. Here’s some of what we learned:

1. Palmer Luckey, the creator of the Oculus Rift, is not your typical nerd…

He’s cheery and talks in normal sentences that are easy to understand. He was homeschooled, and though he did drop out of college, it was California State University, Long Beach, where he was majoring not in computer science but in journalism. He prefers shorts, and his feet are black because he doesn’t like wearing shoes, even outdoors. He doesn’t look like a guy who played Dungeons & Dragons so much as a character in Dungeons & Dragons. He’s a nerd from a different century, working on the problems of a different century.

2. …and he kicked off this revolution by tinkering in his garage.

As an 18-year-old who took apart smartphones and fixed them for cash, Luckey figured out that the solutions to the problems virtual-reality engineers weren’t able to solve were right inside his phone. Now 22, he sold his company, Oculus VR, to Facebook last year for $2.3 billion, allowing it to grow to more than 350 employees in offices in Silicon Valley, Seattle, Dallas and Austin as well as in South Korea and Japan. That’s because, as fantastical as Luckey’s dreams were, Mark Zuckerberg and the rest of the tech industry had a much bigger hope for the sensory-­immersion goggles Luckey used to carry around in a yellow bucket in order to hold loose wires. They had seen the Internet get disrupted by mobile and were wary of being blindsided by the next platform for accessing ­information—which they think might just have been hiding in Luckey’s yellow bucket. (Here’s how Mark Zuckerberg explains VR.)

3. Silicon Valley is pouring money into the concept like crazy.

Venture capitalist Mike Rothenberg, who runs a VR accelerator, says his firm has already secured enough money to invest in a second round of virtual-reality companies this fall. “It’s hard for people to write checks for virtual reality until they try it. Then, not that hard,” he says. He likens this opportunity to the Internet in 1995. “No one calls a company an ‘Internet company’ anymore. In 10 years, everyone will have VR as part of their company.”

4. But Luckey doesn’t feel pressure to bring out the Rift by Christmas, even though others will have come out by then.

“If the iPhone were introduced in any quarter, it would have been a hit. I doubt they were saying, ‘What’s important for the iPhone? We have to hit Christmas,’” says Luckey about letting his ­competition beat him to market.

5. Google already has a low-tech version, dubbed Cardboard (because that’s what it’s made of), on the market.

Through a program called Expeditions, Google has already sent 100 classrooms a field trip in a box; teachers use Cardboards to lead kids through natural, architectural and Martian wonders. The company worked with partners like the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History to create 3-D images not unlike those in the plastic viewfinders that were popular in the 1970s. This comparison isn’t lost on Google, which has a deal with Mattel to put out a version of Google Cardboard in a View-Master.

6. Valve, the gaming company that will be first of the high-end manufactures to market with its Vive headset this year, is full of true believers who can’t wait for you to get your hands on VR.

The Vive is different because it lets you walk around in a virtual environment, rather than staying seated in your chair. The headset alerts you when you’re near a wall, but it requires you to have a 16-by-12-ft. (5 by 4 m) empty room in your house. Jeep Barnett, who has worked on the project from the beginning, isn’t worried. “Sell your dining-room table and eat over your sink,” he says. “If you have a pool table, get rid of that. Get a Murphy bed. People are going to find a space. You have a space for your car because you have to have the superpower of getting downtown in 20 minutes.”

7. Sony, which also has a headset coming out for the Playstation 4, says the hardware is becoming less important than the software.

Richard Marks, a senior researcher at Sony, says that in the past few months it has gotten the hardware far enough along that the software will now matter more. Already, he says, what game designers call “talent amplification” is more impressive than he imagined. “I can point at something and have the force and levitate it, and it really feels like I’m doing it. When you play a game, you say, ‘I died.’ But in virtual reality, man, it’s even more powerful.” I try a few more games before I’m ushered out so they can clear the room for a VIP. As I walk out, Steven ­Spielberg walks in.

8. Some of the coolest applications have nothing to do with gaming.

In the most impressive virtual-­reality experience I have, I use a program called Tilt Brush (since purchased by Google, which has a bunch of high-end virtual-reality projects it’s keeping quiet) to paint in three dimensions. Walking around dripping neon, I paint in the sky in a way that makes me never need to try LSD.

9. Microsoft is trying to leapfrog everybody else with its own Hololens, which is technically augmented reality since it projects holograms onto the real world.

Alex Kipman is in charge of the Hololens, having overseen Microsoft Kinect, the Xbox add-on that allowed people to control what happens onscreen by waving their hands and using their voices, like in Minority Report. When the first version of Kinect was released five years ago, it was the coolest thing Micro­soft had ever made. Kipman is also cool. He’s got a Brazilian accent and dresses like a man who takes Burning Man seriously: shiny gray pants; a long jacket with embroidery; blunt, shoulder-length hair. “If I told people at Microsoft I wanted to make virtual reality, they would have nodded their head yes,” he says. But Kipman wants to save us from spending yet more time on our computers instead of with one another. “Virtual reality is not embracing that which makes us human. Kinect was about ­embracing what’s in all of us. Humans exist in the real world. Holograms say, ‘Hey, technology has become sophisticated enough today that we’re ready to go beyond being stuck behind pixels all day long.’” Holograms, he believes, will reverse our isolation and inactivity.

10. There’s debate within the community about what VR is really good for.

Jeremy Bailenson, who founded Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab in 2003, doesn’t think that his life’s work is the final platform. He thinks people will get hurt walking into walls or when a dog darts across the room. He thinks the glasses will never be comfortable to wear for long periods. And that an all-virtual world is creepy. “I’m actually a Luddite. I don’t play video games. I don’t have a Facebook account,” he says. At the Tribeca Film Festival’s symposium on virtual reality this year, he warned the audience against making entertainment for virtual reality. “Do you want to be in the trash compactor in Star Wars? No, you don’t. If Jaws felt like what you just did in my lab, no one would ever go in the ocean again.” VR, he believes, is an empathy machine and should be saved for that purpose.

11. Hollywood also has had mixed reactions.

But when one VR pioneer showed virtual reality to director James Cameron—the technology-pushing cre­ator of Avatar, Titanic and Terminator—in May 2013, Cameron stated that he had no use for it. “This has very little to do with controlling the viewers’ attention,” says a colleague. “It’s not necessarily a medium for filmmakers.”

For more on VR, read the cover story and check out:

Watch the Demo That Will Make You Want Virtual Reality Right Now

This Is When Sony’s Virtual Reality Headset Is Coming Out

Here’s When You Can Buy Oculus’s Long-Awaited Virtual Reality Headset

TIME Virtual Reality

Meet Virtual Reality’s Most Important Pioneers

The geniuses who are making virtual reality mainstream

In the August 17 cover story of TIME, we take a look at the rise of virtual reality, the perpetually promised technology of the future that is finally becoming a reality. Here’s a closer look at some of the minds behind the virtual realty gear that will start going on sale in late-2015 and early-2016.

TIME Virtual Reality

Here’s Why Valve’s Virtual Reality Controllers Are So Vital

HTC Vive
HTC HTC Vive

Everything gets infinitely more immersive

As of last week, I’ve finally tried all three major, high-end virtual reality headsets: Oculus VR’s Rift, Sony’s Morpheus and HTC/Valve’s Vive. From a new user’s perspective, all three experiences felt mostly similar. I’m convinced that when these headsets start hitting the market next year, a winner will be crowned based on available content, not differences in underlying technology.

But the Vive demo had something I hadn’t experienced yet, and it made the virtual reality experience much more immersive: VR-tuned controllers.

Before I tried the Vive, my experiences in virtual reality were mostly hands-free. I could look around various digital domains, but actually interacting with the ersatz world around me was largely either impossible or meant using the same kind of controllers designed for traditional video games (or, worse, a keyboard and mouse). The Vive demo, however, featured new controllers that look a bit like a sword hilt, designed specifically to let users manipulate objects and other elements in virtual reality.

What VR controllers actually let you do depends on the simulation you’ve got loaded up. In the demo I tried at a downtown New York City hotel on July 16, that meant a combination of clearing tiny fish out of the way of my scuba mask to get a better look at a humpback whale, grabbing the right ingredients out of a fridge and placing them in a pot to make soup, and failing miserably at rebuilding a broken robot. And all of these things felt incredibly natural and intuitive after just a minute or two.

HTC’s Vive won’t have a monopoly on virtual reality controllers; the Facebook-owned Oculus has announced a pair of its own, too. That these companies realize the importance of actual interaction in virtual reality is great news for fans of the medium. While modern VR totally blew me away the first time I used it, I was getting a little bored by the concept come time to put the Vive on. But the controllers added an entirely new element that’s got me thinking about much more complex possibilities in the virtual space, like adventure games (virtual reality Myst, anyone?), puzzlers (VR Monument Valley, yes please) and action titles (VR Star Wars: Lightsaber Battle, shut up and take my money).

Now, more than ever, I can’t wait to see the inevitably crazy ideas actual VR content creators cook up.

TIME Virtual Reality

Watch the Demo That Will Make You Want Virtual Reality Right Now

Mind-blowing, totally mind-blowing

One of the most talked-about virtual reality products, the Vive developed by games giant Valve and smartphone maker HTC, has been making the rounds with a particularly enticing demonstration: a brand new game in the massively popular Portal universe. Clips of what players see during the experience have cropped up here and there; now, you can watch the entire play through in the video above. In the demo, players find themselves inside a workshop tasked with assembling one of the game’s wisecracking robots, among other tasks. One of the important distinctions of Valve’s VR implementation is its unique controllers, which can be seen being used in this clip.

TIME Innovation

The Virtual Reality Gaming Revolution That Wasn’t

The real revolution came in the form of computers small enough to fit in your pocket

On a crisp fall evening in 1991, an excited crowd packed into London’s Wembley Stadium, the storied venue that had previously hosted the 1966 World Cup final and 1985’s Live Aid concert. That was in the past. This night, about 2,000 people gathered to stare directly into the future.

Inside the cavernous stadium stood a line of a dozen large, gray pods. From the outside, it looked like dystopian science fiction: people in pods, their heads sealed in helmets. Inside, though, they were flying in a cutting-edge virtual reality flight simulator that networked all the players into a single, computer-generated world. The launch event celebrated the first time the public could buy all-inclusive VR. People played all night. Orders were taken then and there.

Behind the scenes, the team that’d built the machines, an upstart British company called Virtuality, struggled to hold things together. They’d never attempted to link that many systems together; Virtuality’s engineers were literally writing code on the spot, hoping everything wouldn’t crash and burn. The result—chunky graphics and simple gameplay—would seem primitive today, but in 1991, it was a revelation.

Read the rest of the story at The Kernel, the Daily Dot’s Sunday magazine

TIME movies

See What It’s Like to Hunt Down YouTube Stars as Terminator With This Virtual Reality 360 Video

Thoroughly enjoyable

YouTube have teamed up with Paramount Studios and virtual reality (VR) production company Specular Theory to produce a 360-degree video that lets viewers be the Terminator, Variety reports.

The three-minute clip was uploaded by Lilly Singh (a.k.a IISuperwomanII) Monday and features other famous YouTubers—like Olga Kay, Matthew Santoro and Toby Turner—being hunted down by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s killer robot as he goes on a rampage through YouTube’s studios in Los Angeles, reports Variety.

Terminator Genisys: The YouTube Chronicles in 360 is a promotional project for the latest Terminator movie, which is out July 1.

The plot for the 360 video is simple and introduced by Arnie himself: a new Terminator has been sent from the future and it’s up to the YouTube stars to defeat him.

Viewers can watch the video with Google Cardboard’s VR viewer or on a phone, tilting it to explore different angles from the Terminator’s point of view, Variety says.

YouTube added support for VR videos to its site earlier this month.

[Variety]

TIME Gadgets

Here’s When Sony’s Virtual Reality Headset Is Coming Out

Project Morpheus Sony VR E3 2015
Bloomberg via Getty Images A member of the media plays a video game using a Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. Project Morpheus virtual-reality headset during a demonstration in Tokyo, Japan, on April 6, 2015.

30 games in development for Project Morpheus

Sony’s virtual reality headset for PlayStation is set to launch in the first half of 2016, according to a new report.

Project Morpheus, which will sell for “several hundred dollars,” will be one of the highlights during Sony’s presentation at this week’s E3 2015 gaming convention in Los Angeles, Calif., Wired reports. At least 20 games and experiences will be showcased during the presentation, scheduled for Monday at 6:00 p.m. PT.

Sony has a broad range of genres planned for the VR headset, according to Adam Boyes, Sony’s VP of publisher and developer relations. The company is tracking the development of 30 games for Project Morpheus, from small puzzle games to first-person exploration games.

Other VR headsets are also gearing up for their releases, including the highly anticipated Oculus Rift, which will open to pre-orders later this year for a shipping date in Q1 2016.

[Wired]

TIME Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality Star Wars Will Be a Thing

Star Wars Exhibition Previews In Melbourne
Scott Barbour—Getty Images Lynne Kosky (L), Victoria's Minister for Public Transport and Minister for the Arts has a lightsaber battle with an actor dressed as Darth Vader during a preview to the 'Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination' exhibition at Scienceworks on June 2, 2009 in Melbourne, Australia.

ILM is building a VR lab

If you love Star Wars, you’ve seen the incredible work that special effects company Industrial Light & Magic does in creating amazing characters and special effects. Now, the company founded by George Lucas wants to make the cinema experience even more immersive by bringing virtual reality technology into the mix.

The project is called the ILM Experience Lab, and will put viewers directly into the world of their favorite films, USA Today reports.

“ILMxLab is all about us leveraging our skills across all platforms,” Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy told the newspaper. “It’s the Wild West out there with new frontiers, and we’re all figuring out these new tools. Today, technology is in search of content. But we can bring an emotional experience to that technology.”

The first products this new division creates are expected to be related to Star Wars and debut later this year. The next film in the Star Wars franchise, The Force Awakens, debuts in December.

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